(Or: unexpected side-effects of major undoings-of-things in my head, including exhaustion, exciting new comprehension of my Issues, and less exciting thoughts about community.)
Community-oriented Work is, thankfully, nowhere close to my god-given to-do list, and I am glad of that for various reasons (including general impatience with a lot of human behaviors, general not identifying with a lot of personal interaction concerns, and general fatigue – some of it related to burnout with a physical community I used to be part of a lot of it related to simply being so tired of fighting, of seeing fighting). So I’ve had little desire to write much about community drama or dynamics, especially on this blog. I hope this will be the last I ever feel I want to write about human community, I may in some ways be a part of it, but it’s really Not My Department, it’s fucking exhausting, and about the only thing keeping me from simply saying, “I’m d o n e, goodbye, everyone, *deletes all pagan blogs and accounts*” is that I have friends I only interact with online. (and I figure at some point, some of this current major fatigue will lift, so it would be premature to slink into the distance)
I’ve been vaguely wondering if I should have reread all those “how to shadow work” things I’ve reblogged and bookmarked; maybe one of them might have warned me about the post-breakdown stuff. Fatigue. Not that intellectual comprehension of what that might feel like would necessarily help; after all, I went through something similar last summer, and so when I realized after several days, that I felt just tired, exhausted in a particular way, and that this was very much like last summer, I was still kind of surprised by it. I remain kind of surprised, and annoyed, weeks after the big push, that I am still feeling so very, very weak and fragile. I also feel – good. Happy, even (my life is still very good). There’s a certain kind of relief and ease I have now. But my energy is just not there; my short bike commute feels as tiring as it did the first week, and if it weren’t for a general lack of symptoms, I’d think I’d been hit with a serious cold virus. Big emotional blow = body wants to lie down and just shut down for a while.
I’ve had a lot of dreams that I can tell are processing things, which is good news. I’ve also had several that I think were Meaningful in other ways, but, frustratingly, I could not recall the specific details once I woke (though I think my dream-self got more of a message) – because when it rains it pours, and I’ve gotten strong indications I need to make progress in some spiritual stuff, too, because dealing with all this psychological shit doesn’t make a long-enough to-do list. (I think they are intertwined to some degree, for double bonus extra fun.) It’s true what they all say, the gods don’t ask for much.
(I regret nothing.)
(Well. Maybe some late nights.)
A couple weeks after that push (which, if you didn’t read the previous post, could be summarized as: many years of ignorance/denial of just how bad the abuse from my ex-husband was being reduced to complete and utter rubble), Loki very gently suggested I ought to step away from a bunch of my usual internet haunts, because it was distressing. And by “distressing” I think I really ought to say “triggering,” which was kind of a new thing, because I previously thought only in-person interactions could be that level of fear-inducing. In retrospect, I think it is true to say I have been triggered by quite a lot of online interactions, just usually not to the extent I was recently.
The worst of it wasn’t even the pointless “discussion” I was actually involved in in one group – while it was upsetting, I really didn’t give a shit about the opinions of the aggressors – seeing other discussion threads, it was abundantly clear they weren’t interested in any real discussion, with anyone, ever, and as they are/were neither any kind of friend or ally of mine, or in any kind of authority/leadership position, ultimately, they were not really threatening. Once I got wise to what was really going on, it was much easier to separate myself from it. (And, eventually, they were removed from that group, for many, many, MANY transgressions and repeatedly ignoring both public and private instruction from the group mods to Cut That Out.) However, leading up to that, the group mods posted a kind of generic “everyone needs to behave better” post which a) didn’t really address how the specifically abusive people were in the wrong, while also b) subtly blaming the people who responded to them for contributing to the problem. “Everyone needs to behave better” is kind of a weak response. It is true that people who aren’t going to ever engage in real conversation are best dealt with by ignoring them completely, but in a group, that presents a problem, because if their behavior is NOT called out publicly, as what it IS (and that was done a couple times by some of the group members), I think that does a disservice to other people in the group who’ve been attacked, as well as people who simply don’t understand WTF is going on, or –why- certain kinds of behavior patterns are really problems, and not just a case of “being misunderstood.” In fact, there were several people who later said they thought the WRONG people had been removed from the group, implying that the people who stood up to the abuse were the bigger problem. (It does not matter the name of the group, I have seen this kind of pattern so many times it does not matter if you know the specific case; if you’ve spent much time in any FB groups, forums, or mailing lists, you’ve probably seen this kind of shit.)
The things that actually freaked me out the worst were a case where an admin (someone I know as more than “just an admin of that group”) in another group, quite understandably upset at something posted there, lashed out at a group member – and I really had not expected such behavior from that person. Really really was shocked by it. Then there was a discussion or two I read where no one was being spoken to abusively, but I disagreed with some of what was being said – and the mere thought of bringing up an alternate point of view, or even questioning the accuracy of what was being said, was absolutely terrifying. Because unlike the group previously mentioned, these were people I consider friends, or who are generally considered trustworthy people in the community, and while intellectually I believed no one was going to attack me, the rest of me wasn’t buying it: the combination of “disagreement with person considered friend/trustworthy” and the newer concern I have developed, of the pagan/polytheist community seeming awfully quick to label certain kinds of dissent as qualifying a person for Outcast Forever, No Mistakes Allowed, was just too much. Intellectual knowing that dire things were highly unlikely to happen was no match for feeling like things are just like they were back then, there’s no way to make myself truly understood.
So I’ve mostly been avoiding the pagan sections of Tumblr and Facebook (for the most part; there are some groups I check in on because they are typically pretty calm). I can feel my blood pressure and heart rate go up just thinking about stumbling across people arguing. Or even just griping about other people’s behavior. I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe or convey the kind of physical/emotional reaction stumbling into that stuff was having. (shit even thinking about it now starts pushing those buttons)
In the process of dealing with both the old shit and the new fun shit, I’ve been able to see how it’s connected – reasons why certain words and phrases have been putting me instantly on guard, expecting the worst, and gearing up for a fight for months. They are not inherently abusive words and phrases, nor are they being used that way, but my association with them in the context of any kind of disagreement is 8 years of being told I’m fundamentally wrong about the way things are, and never having anything important I say be respected. Or, rather, having things respected so infrequently, and only after so much abusive back and forth that I expect it never – and at that kind of cost, is ever pushing back worth it? A lot of times I decide it isn’t. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be able to convince ALL of me that Now is not Then, these people are not him, the situations are different, it’s okay.
This has also made me take another look at how verbally (emotionally, psychological, pick your term) abusive behavior is talked about in pagan/polytheist circles.
I see a lot of links passed around Tumblr, “here’s how to identify manipulation,” “here are kinds of abuse,” and discussions about the need to know the signs of manipulative and abusive behavior in spiritual communities. It’s quite often in the context of “there are people who will claim to be your friend, or to be an expert in spiritual matters, who will say they’ll help you, but they’re really going to be trying to control you, so watch out for [list of behaviors].” And a lot of people pass it around related to more personal experiences (abuse by partner, parent, other family member, etc.).
I also have seen a lot of people talking about – or more often, complaining about – the quality of discourse. Or they mention bullying being a problem, sometimes even mentioning specific people. The Kemetics have “don’t be a dick” and the Two Response Rule to help keep conversations civil, and prevent arguments from spiraling into either pointlessness or ugliness.
But I haven’t seen very many people actually put those together and say that what we’re really talking about when we talk about “community discourse” is the fact that many, many people use abusive language when they get into disagreements with other people. Or when they are correcting someone. “Bullying” is just another term for “abuse,” why don’t we just say that?
I don’t know why it is that so many other words are used to describe the problem. Is it that saying, “That’s abusive language” is too threatening? Puts someone too quickly on the defense? Or believing it can only be abuse if it’s “bad enough,” or happens often enough, or . . . ? I wonder if it’s related to the way that telling someone, “That thing you said was racist” can instantly send someone so deep into the defensive “But I’m not a racist!!” that they won’t listen, because “racist” has so much weight behind it. Lots of people don’t want to think of themselves as being a racist, because “racist” is so heavily loaded with really extreme racism, like neo-Nazis, and the KKK, that all the subtler kinds of racism, which blend in so easily to “normal” discourse, well, they surely can’t be that bad!! I’m not a racist!! Is it simply not understanding that these things exist on a scale, a lot of it is subtle until you know how to look for it, what it really really looks like at all scales, until you do the work to understand how deeply interwoven into the dominant culture and language it is, how subtle communication contributes to a much bigger problem – and obviously, you can say racist (or misogynistic, or homophobic, or generally abusive) things without being deeply committed to BEING bigoted – while being, in fact, committed to trying to overturn oppressive behaviors.
A HUGE amount of abusive language and behavior is common and treated as normal and okay. (Or “just calling it like it is.” Or similar kinds of justifications. The dominant culture is a culture loaded with the need to be dominant over others/the Other, much more so than a need to work with others; this is intertwined with all the specific kinds of oppression out there as well as the Western Industrial model of using the land, and capitalism as generally practiced.) It is no surprise a lot of people haven’t learned better ways to communicate. Adding in the need for many people to respond quickly to conversations online, while still overwhelmed by their immediate emotional response, without the preventative measure of someone being literally in front of you, and it is a natural outcome that so many disagreements turn ugly. There is a difference, too, between people who are chronically abusive, unwilling or unable to see that their behavior is a problem, and people who have that willingness to learn – who actually have the necessary empathy – but maybe they need to have it pointed out to them in blunt ways, “See, that right there? Look at that list of abusive behaviors. They match. How about saying what you mean in another way, or finding another outlet for your emotions before you respond?”
If people are willing and able to change how they speak to not contribute to racism, I think people can learn to alter how they respond to people more generally.
One of the things that disturbed me with the first group situation I mentioned was that I wasn’t sure how many of the group moderators understood that the abusive people were actually being abusive and that they were not going to change; I had no idea if any of the mods understood anything at all about verbal abuse, that that was the dynamic happening, or if they were just going to keep encouraging “everyone” to stop arguing and try to get along.
I’ve seen a number of discussions over the last couple years about a need to make our pagan/polytheist communities healthier and better, there is discussion about what polytheist leadership needs to be concerned with, etc., etc., and I would suggest that everyone needs to understand abuse dynamics much more.
Leaders – whether formal or informal, intentional or accidental (do you have hundreds of people following and recommending your blog? Then you have got some kind of leadership going whether you wanted it or not) – need to understand this in order to set a good example as well as to cope when an abusive dynamic exists in a group, so you know whether to keep giving people a chance, or remove them, and where to find resources to help the rest of the group understand. Leaders also need to understand this, and work at it, hard, so they don’t end up lashing out at someone who is a member of the group – because if the leader of the group is abusive, what recourse do the rest of us have? If there are multiple moderators/leaders, appeal to them perhaps, assuming they’ll give that a fair hearing, and not instantly take the side of their co-leader.
Everyone who isn’t in a leadership position needs to do this, too, for a couple of community-related reasons. One is that even if you won’t ever be up to confronting someone over it or teaching others, understanding why you never feel you’re being heard by some people can be a huge relief, and allow you to either stop interacting with them or gain enough distance that their abuse just seems foolish, unworthy of response, instead of hurtful or requiring a response. And the other big reason is to attend to your own language, to be aware of circumstances under which you are likely to lash out, or to be aware of the more subtle kinds of manipulation and attack you use to try and either bolster your own position or undermine someone else’s. Reread some arguments you’ve been in and see if anything matches the list of abusive/manipulative behavior. Set an example for the people you interact with, for the people who see you interact with others, prevent behavior that might be massively triggering for other people (seeing other people abused can be a trigger for people who have been abused). (If you think might be in an abusive relationship, or have been, that’s also a very good reason to read up on it. IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: If you are in an abusive relationship, please be careful about confronting your abuser with clear evidence or books about it; some will become MORE violent when confronted – this does not make it “your fault” if they get worse, that’s their choice, but it’s something to keep in mind – keep yourself safe. If you are planning on leaving, do not give them warning, that’s an even more dangerous situation. Call a domestic violence hotline to get more and better advice than I can give here. )
If we want to have a healthier community, of any kind, reducing oppressive – abusive – behavior of all kinds has to be a part of that, and while I do expect more of people in leadership positions, it can’t happen without a LOT of other people doing the same work on themselves. Healthy leaders without a healthy community is a bad situation, and people in leadership positions can’t force anyone else to change.
Anyway, for anyone who wants to better understand this shit, for whatever reasons you want or need to (and if it’s because you’ve been abused, you have my deepest sympathy) here are a bunch of links that I’ve found useful:
- The Manipulator Files has several articles about abuse, which was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. They write mostly from the perspective of women who have been abused by men, in the context of a romantic relationship, but some of the information is likely to be relevant regardless of your/your partner’s gender, or even if the other person is someone you’re romantically involved with. A few specific articles there I’ve read and recommend are:
- Emotional Abusers
- Eight Easy Ways to Spot an Emotional Manipulator
- Jerks Who Fuck With Your Mind –
- Another “Jerks Who Fuck With Your Mind,” this one on the “Patronizing Mind-Fucker” skip forward to point 5, and 5 to the end list A LOT of abusive behaviors I’ve seen occur in online discussions. (Those points also describe the methods my ex used.)
- Verbal Abuse on another site with lots of articles on the topic
- Emotional Abuse: Definitions, Signs, Symptoms, Examples, and this piece on gaslighting, which goes into a nice variety of examples of gaslighting kinds of behavior, and Effects of Emotional Abuse on Adults are just a few useful pages on another site with LOTS of writing about emotional/verbal abuse.
- This is a nice list of types of abuse with brief descriptive examples.
- Another short list of emotionally manipulative behavior, and one listing “types” of abusers based on their most-used techniques.
- Pandy’s – for people who’ve been sexually abused, or friends/family of people who have been. There is a very large forum there. I’ve seen plenty of discussion of verbal abuse in there, too, since – surprise! – you often get one with the other.
There is plenty more out there on the interwebs; search phrases like “verbal abuse” or “emotional abuse” or “psychological abuse” will get you there.
I’ve also been reading Patricia Evans’ books on verbal abuse, and have had Marie France Hirigoyen’s work recommended to me as well. Evans’ books seem to do a decent job of covering the topic – her first book was the first book published on verbal abuse – and they are probably in your local library, or can be found used for not much money. I found it more helpful to see things explained comprehensively in one source rather than spread across a bunch of websites that are mostly lists of “types of abuse/abusers.” There are lots of other books on the topic out there, I just can’t recommend them since I haven’t read them.
I’d also highly recommend the book Nonviolent Communication, because it’s not enough to just understand “these kinds of phrases are a problem,” you need to know what kinds of patterns to replace them with, and this small book provides what seems to me to be a pretty good model.
I have no idea even how long I’m going to keep avoiding my usual haunts; it’s not so much “out of spoons,” it’s that “having spoons to deal” is a statement that seems like the wildest fantasy. I think I am at negative numbers; I have no sense of when or if that will recharge; I have been tired of fighting, tired of seeing fighting, for years – it is a large reason why I quit reading political blogs – and while I appreciate that a lot of the arguments are important, and are about important things, and I am deeply grateful for the people who have the energy to keep educating people, to keep covering the same old ground over and over – too much of it looks like people talking past one another; there is little reaching understanding of the other person’s perspective, but mostly re-entrenchment of one’s own perspective, even under the most civilized circumstances. And it’s so tiring to keep watching or participating in, and I have other things I need to focus on.
I would like to see that change. I also care about this not only for pretty personal reasons, but because it is a part of a much bigger cultural problem in how the dominant culture encourages “power over” dynamics (domination and control of others) rather than cooperative dynamics, and the more pieces of that pattern we are aware of, and changing, the better off we will all be.
For extra credit, further reading about abuse and lack of consent in other areas of life/culture, things I did NOT find while intentionally searching on this topic, they just happened to cross my path in recent weeks:
The Fantasy and Abuse of the Manipulable User – about the tech industry and users having consent
Toxic Until Proven Healthy – about abusive workplace culture (startups/high tech)
Shifting Beyond Corporate Exploitation: Meaningful Work and Reconnecting with Ourselves and the Land – which has a couple examples of ways workplaces can be abusive/coercive